Travel to France by plane with two toddlers? Am I crazy? Maybe, but since we were going to France anyway, I figured that flying would be less hassle than, say, driving, or pushing the pram through the channel tunnel!
I knew something of what to expect. Last year I travelled with OB and was pleasantly surprised by how easy they made everything for us at Manchester Airport. It was a lot better there than at Basel on the supposedly 'child-friendly' continent where they stood impatiently by while I struggled to collapse the complex pram and hoist it up onto the conveyor belt while holding a grumpy OB who could not yet stand unaided.
This time, however, Manchester Airport let me down badly! While the fast lane through security was awesome (especially since the queue for non pram-pushers was snaking its way out of the main terminal doors!), other things did not go so well.
Having been shepherded round a back route to the gate to avoid the two staircases (no lift apparently!) on the way to the gate, I was surprised when it came to boarding time that there was absolutely no pre-boarding at all.
No worries, I thought, I'll just push in! Pushing in with two cute kids in a double buggy is surprisingly easy, and I was soon at the front of the queue to show our boarding passes and passports. But, no! The lady on the desk wouldn't even look at our documents and instead insisted that the buggy be collapsed and the boys set free to cause havoc in the airport before we'd made it onto the gangway.
Of course, while I juggled OB's reins, NB's hand, the hand luggage and the buggy, the queue continued on past me, which meant I had to push in again! Thankfully, the other passengers were sympathetic. Then the lady wanted boarding passes and passports - again, not an easy task when your hands are full of children. Why she couldn't have let me collapse the buggy on the far side of the desk after she'd seen our documents I can't imagine, especially as I know for sure that someone will have had to carry that collapsed pram down to the end of the gangway anyway.
By the time we managed all that, the plane was half full of people taking ages to put their huge suitcases in the overhead storage so it was all fun and games getting to our seats (on row 30!), and of course the poor soul with the aisle seat in our row was already seated, necessitating some awkward dancing in the aisle before I could get us all in place.
All airlines everywhere should realise that people with babies in prams need PRE-BOARDING! If Easy Jet can manage it, why can't national carriers like Swiss?
As we descended into Manchester on our return flight, I was feeling pretty relaxed. The boys had been pretty well-behaved and although one of them had filled their nappy in a timely (and very smelly) fashion just after the fasten seatbelts light had come on, I felt that things were going well.
Of course, sometime during our final descent they both, quite unexpectedly, fell asleep. This meant that when it came to getting us all off the plane I had two tired, whiny, barely-functioning babies to handle. We waited almost until everyone else had left before we stumbled down the aisle to the door, but I wasn't worried because I knew that the pram, complete with its 'delivery at aircraft' label would be waiting for us at the end of the gangway.
Except it wasn't.
"Where's my pram?" I asked the ground staff member at the door. "I was expecting delivery at aircraft."
"We don't do that in Manchester," she replied.
I know this to be patently untrue, but I'll not go into details about the ensuing conversation, about how unhelpful and rude she was, about how I was refused any kind of assistance in getting to baggage reclaim, or about how I stormed off with the boys throwing words like 'disgrace' over my shoulder!
At the top of the gangway, I asked the same question of the two staff members there, who tapped on their computer keyboards in a concerned way and then said we'd have to wait for 'Lee'.
Lee turned out to be a burly guy in a hi-vis waistcoat who assured me that they don't do delivery at aircraft at Manchester. When I pointed out that this seemed strange as last time I had travelled into Manchester the pram had been ready and waiting for me, he amended his comment to "Well, we don't do it at this gate." Oh, right, thanks.
Once again, special assistance of any sort was refused to I had to carry/drag the two wailing, half-asleep boys the four hundred million miles through passport control (where of course she wanted to see my letters of permission to travel with the boys - if I was kidnapping them, why would I be bringing them INTO the country?!) and down to baggage reclaim, where we had another unsightly juggling experience as I tried to retrieve our baggage and pram without either of the boys getting swept away on the conveyor belt.
Not good, Manchester. It's experiences like these that cause people to have the (mistaken, in my opinion) impression that they are so much more child-friendly on the continent. While I've been abroad, I've had dreadful experiences in airports, trips to supermarkets where twin-trolleys simply don't exist, and kids' meals served on plates so super-heated that adults have been warned not to touch them. It's not hard to make airports a little easier for people travelling with children, and even if we can't, a helpful attitude and smiling face goes much further than rudeness and lies!